The title of American novelist James Howard Kunstler’s book about the approaching catastrophe of global climate change say’s it all – “The Long Emergency”. The approach is slow but inexorable like a giant cruise ship that loses power as it heads toward a rocky shore. However, anyone watching from shore would see the moving ship and, if they had a modicum of knowledge of the physics of momentum, would realized the ship was not going stop in time. Taking hours from start to finish this would be a “Short Emergency”.
Another analogy would be Hollywood’s usual approach to the impending end of humanity, that of a large object such as an asteroid or comet discovered to be on a collision course with Earth within a couple of weeks from impact. This, of course, would be another “Short Emergency” with a duration of weeks and the end coming literally in a flash. Earthlings would have a magnificent feel for what was about to happen as the object (with a bit of help from the FX crew) would grow hourly in both apparent size and brilliance as it took aim straight at the observer, almost certainly in contradiction of the laws of orbital motion.
In contrast, the “Long Emergency” of climate change will take decades, or generations, or possibly a century or two and the changes will become undeniably apparent to various people only after the passage of decades or even a lifetime. Even though a wealth of data from scientific investigation is available now to form an extremely well-informed and unambiguous decision that anthropogenic climate change is real, there are still those who refuse to think about it. If you only think about what will happen if we collectively refuse to face reality, then it is a picture which anyone could be excused for being unable to bear looking at.
The real tragedy of climate change is that it need not cause the extinction of our species if we would face the reality and resolve to begin immediately to make the changes necessary to decrease or remove the causes. We are facing the very real possibility that we will continue to play Russian Roulette until we finally find the right chamber to fire.